03/25/2013 12:15 EDT | Updated 05/24/2013 05:12 EDT

Vancouver Housing Issues Need New Development Model


Vancouver is widely admired for its beauty, its livability, its urban planning known as Vancouverism. But there are problems in paradise. The city has become one of the least affordable places to live in the world, second only to Hong Kong.

Even on Vancouver's relatively affordable east side, the price of a condo has increased 280 per cent since the 1970s compared to just nine per cent for real household incomes, according to the city's 2012-2021 Housing and Homeless Strategy. Perhaps not surprisingly, homelessness has also increased: it is nearly three times higher than a decade ago.

It is time to try a new model of development. As a family-owned development company in east Vancouver, Boffo Properties is currently working on plans for two housing projects that mix non-market (social and welfare) and market housing with social services. One is in the Downtown Eastside (DTES), the city's oldest and poorest neighbourhood; the other is in the adjacent Commercial Drive area (The Drive).

Although anti-gentrification activists would prefer 100 per cent social housing in the DTES, we at Boffo Properties believe housing that accommodates different income levels, along with on-site social services, makes for healthier communities than segregating people according to their means. This conforms with the city's policy to encourage a housing mix across all neighbourhoods that enhances quality of life.

In the Oppenheimer district of the DTES, Boffo is developing a 29-home housing project with a mix of 24 low-priced market homes and five non-market rental units. This is a socially responsible project, creating housing where there previously was none. We feel that this is a small step forward in helping build a mixed community that accommodates the diverse residents who live and work in the Downtown Eastside. Moreover, we are adding to the housing stock in the DTES without displacing any residents as the site has been a derelict brownfield for 25 or more years.

Targeting $385 per square foot, the market units will be the least expensive new construction in the city of Vancouver proper. The non-market units will be purchased at cost and managed by Community Builders Group, an international nonprofit organization that provides housing for people who are homeless or living in substandard housing.

Community Builders Group plans to rent out the three non-market units required by current zoning policy at the welfare rate of $375 per month and the additional two units at standard BC Housing HILS (Housing Income Limits) rate. Just as residents of the market and non-market housing will all be part of the same community, every home will be designed and built with the same level of care and attention.

In The Drive neighbourhood up the street from our office, The Kettle Friendship Society provides support for people living with mental illness to help them integrate back into society and lead healthier lives by providing housing, employment, advocacy and support services. More than 3,600 people use their services, a mental health drop-in, a transition house for women and over 200 units of supported housing throughout the city.

Since 2006, The Kettle Friendship Society has had an urgent need for more space including housing to accommodate increasing demand for their community services. Boffo Properties is assisting The Kettle to re-develop their site at 1725 Venables St. at Commercial Drive. The new facilities will likely allow The Kettle to offer more social housing and other services, with market housing above. The economics of the project will drive how we move forward while working with the official community plan, ensuring that the market component essentially funds the non-market components

We believe this model of development, mixing both non-market and market uses in a self-supported manner is an innovative, yet repeatable approach. We recognize these two projects will not solve the housing or affordability issues that plague Vancouver, but we do believe they are small, positive steps forward towards creating more vibrant mixed communities throughout the city.

We hope to help re-define the definition of a "home"; one that expands past four walls and into the greater community, where diverse groups of people and creative retail and local businesses become a teaching mechanism for inclusion, empathy and social responsibility for future generations.

Affordable Homes Under $300,000 In BC (March 2013)